Nikon/Calumet Roadshow Post-Mortem


Giving my talk at Stevenson College, Edinburgh. Taken by Mr Nikon (David Robbins) on a D90 with a 10.5mm fisheye lens. He shot some video too, though not really enough to post on the blog.

I’ve finally finished the Nikon/Calumet Roadshow, and have got the Hotel bills, petrol receipts and train tickets to prove it! All in all it was a very good experience, and the reception at the various universities and colleges (with one exception) was overwhelmingly positive.

Although I’ve done a few visiting lecture spots in the past few years, an opportunity like this is quite rare, and allows me to get a fairly good overview of the state of photographic education as it is today. Given that I serve on the Education Working Group of the AoP, this is probably a good thing! Here’s what I found after 8 colleges, and about 750 students, around 150 of whom completed the assignment we set them.

On the plus side:

  • By ‘eck things have changed since my day! The facilities on offer at all the colleges were nothing short of impressive, and in some cases genuinely stunning. I’m not sure the students involved know how good they’ve got it!
  • Overall the tutors were quick to tell me how glad they were that I was reinforcing what they were trying to tell the students themselves. I was very pleased about this, not because I’m trying to avoid a fight, but because it means that the students are being given the right advice and pointed in the right direction.
  • I was very impressed at how students rose to the challenge offered by the assignment we set them. Not just in accepting it in the first place, but also in agreeing to have their work critiqued publicly. I always offered the students the option of not appraising their work in front of everyone, and out of roughly 150 people, only 2 declined. Personally, I was never so bold, and was always afraid of my work being critiqued. Particular praise in this area goes to the students down in Falmouth, whose tutors had jumped the gun and given out the “secret” brief early. When it was explained to the students that the other 7 colleges had not been given weeks in advance to prepare ideas, and had been forced to improvise on the day, they insisted that they would do it under the same circumstances. Top marks to them, as they handed in some pretty good work!
  • I only got asked technical questions, and questions like “what camera do you use?” on very rare occasions. I was chuffed by this, as hopefully it implied that students realised that there’s so much more to this business than owning an expensive camera. Mind you, I did have one cocky sod ask me about my “lateral flash” technique in a very self-assured way. “Lateral flash?” Never heard of it mate, I think you might have made that term up just to try and sound clever in front of your fellow students.
  • Plymouth college of Art and Design knocked our collective socks off when it came to the quality of their work. We saw only one entry that was a little shaky on a technical note, and the rest all looked stunning. The fact that their technical skill was so widespread can only lead me to believe that they’re all being taught good stuff.

On the down side:

  • Despite what I’ve said about Plymouth, there was a very worrying trend towards what I can only describe as complete technical incompetence. This was excusable in the case of the few first year students we saw, but given that the majority of students who took on the brief were third years, it was pretty shocking. By technical incompetence I’m referring to 3 stops underexposed, out of focus, camera shake and badly composed shots. Pretty basic stuff.
  • Staying with technical stuff, a worrying number of students were not familiar with digital. I’ll happily admit that film still has a role to play, but it’s a bit part, rather than a starring role, and anyone who doesn’t know digital is pretty much doomed to failure in the modern marketplace. Again, I’m talking about 3rd years here, people who in less than 9 months will be looking for jobs in the industry.
  • There was also a recurring trend of people not reading the brief they were set. This wasn’t so bad at the first couple of colleges, but by the 3rd location we were giving the students doing the brief a quick pep talk before sending them off, and made sure that everyone understood what the various briefs were. Of particular note was the Fashion brief, which referred to Bespoke Tailoring. Despite double checking that everyone understood what this was, we would still get a few people who handed in some lovely fashion shots of young girls in dresses. Super, very pretty, and technically competent, but absolutely bugger all to do with the brief you were set!
  • There was one college where the entire experience was pretty atrocious. Everything from a freezing cold lecture hall, to a shoddy turnout from students, to some very snotty attitudes on their behalf, to a major misunderstanding regarding the brief. I should point out at this stage that the colleges don’t pay for us lot to turn up (though they usually buy us lunch!) The entire event is paid for by Nikon and Calumet, and if there’s no support for it, there are lots of other colleges that would like us to appear!. The college know who they are, and I’m not going to risk a flaming email correspondence by naming them.
  • As time passed I spotted an odd trend. I was expecting to receive a steady queue of students after the talk requesting work experience. I got roughly one person per venue who came up and asked me for some. However, when I got online after an event I’d usually find a couple of emails waiting for me that started with “Hi, you came and gave a talk today, and I was wondering if I could get some work experience? I was sitting in the back row 3rd from the left….” I can understand people being a bit nervous, but I’m hardly an ogre, and needless to say, the people who email me, rather than come up to me and ask, are not quite as memorable!
  • I’m getting old. I wasn’t mistaken for a student once during the tour. This is a bad thing.

All in all though, a superb experience, and it’s distinctly possible it may happen again next year. It didn’t half wear me out though, maybe next time round we can spread the dates out a bit more!


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